The Last Campfire is a game about rescuing lost souls on their pilgrimage, finding your own purpose and finding your way home.
Every once in a while, a game like The Last Campfire comes along and completely changes expectations of what is capable when art meets playability. When you first begin the game, you’re probably going to be a bit lost to the plot of what is going on, but as you gain your bearings, you quickly understand the weight of your character’s role and their purpose in this world full of relics and wonder.
You play as an ember, a blue cloth-like creature that has a playful mannerism and tends to flop about as he walks. The first thing that you stumble across is a bag that allows you to hold items, serving as your inventory and quite the visual accessory to also compliment your look. The bag, however, just happens to be lifted off of a deceased ‘sack-person’ such as yourself, and you start to realize the danger and depth of the emotion used in this otherwise cheerful-looking puzzle game.
Puzzles are found every time you come across a lost soul, or forlorn as the game calls them, and you must find the blue flame within the puzzle that represents their transgression or basically what keeps them from moving on. Each one, other than the difficulty of the puzzle itself, teaches a moral or lesson of the tribulations of these frail, fallen embers on their journeys. Most of these puzzles are of fair difficulty and consist of merely moving statues onto switches, but there’s the occasional challenge that will test you with additional powers — like the ability to move platforms with a flute — and the intricacy found in their manipulation of the world around you. Sometimes, the puzzle consists of taking an inventory item to the other side of an area and finding out its use, which has you sort of backtracking a bit too often, but it’s excusable, given the tasks asked of you.
The main hub areas of the game consist of a campfire and all the forlorn you’ve rescued. You can choose to proceed to the next area without rescuing all the forlorn if you want, and can return to the previous areas at any time to find collectibles and the ones you missed later. This adds additional ease of play to an otherwise easy-going puzzle game and is a welcome openness that most games don’t afford you these days. There’s plenty to take in in the world of The Last Campfire, though.
Every inch of The Last Campfire has a distinct colorful beauty to it, filling every crevice with nature or relics and is just a gorgeous work of art to soak in. I absolutely loved the general theme of the game and even though there’s a lot to process with the emotion of the embers and the theme of loss and depression, there’s a good amount of beauty to showcase the aspiration of hope. Your ember and their pals are rendered like a chibi version of the Wayfarers from Journey and have dialogue that warms the cockles of your heart or perhaps chills you to the bone, depending on your outlook on the subject matter. The whole world is alive with frogs and birds and various creatures that keep your attention and further inject the environments with an attention to detail that showcases the love put into the game.
I do have to mention a particular problem I had with the game: loading lag. Thankfully, due to the type of game that it is, it didn’t seem to hinder my ability to play the game whatsoever, but it’s horrible. Every time you load up the encounter with a forlorn, there’s a visual jittering from the lag of loading the level. Each time you activate a cutscene or move into an area before the caching of that area is ready for you, there’s lag there too. For the developer of No Man’s Sky to have issues with visual lag in a game that doesn’t seem to be that demanding is odd, if not straight-up crazy once you stop to think about it. I only played the Playstation 4 version of the game, on my Playstation Pro, but I shudder to think of how the game handled on a lower-spec console such as the Switch.
The Last Campfire is a short experience that can be beaten in a few hours, but there’s a palpable amount of love and care put into not only the design of the game itself but the meticulous details of grief in a video game. Your character, its cohorts, the somber narration throughout, the music, and the visual design all lend themselves to this weaving tale of loss and despair, but ultimately the hope of purpose in a world this dismal. Your ember has a task to assist others, and it feels good to put into reality the saving of these lost souls, especially in the midst of the world we live in today. The Last Campfire is a beautiful game that haunts its players but delivers an excellent puzzle game that will provoke the mind and the soul throughout its journey.